At Vancouver Repair Yard, Handtools are Vintage But Not Outdated

In boatbuilding, when you see old tools, they’re likely doing the same job they’ve been doing dependably for many decades. At Commodore’s Boats, for instance, Paul Hansen prefers to use a caulking mallet that is more than half a century old.

“In his experience,” writes Shelley McIvor in a profile of the Vancouver yard (see page 14 in Professional BoatBuilder No. 167), “comparable new oak versions don’t seem to stand up.”

At Commodore’s, he works on restoring large wooden boats. The company specializes in dramatic conversions—big, complex projects such as a 1957 42’ (12.8m) Wahl fishboat converted to a coastal pleasure cruiser, and an 80’ (24.4m) tug built in 1912 that now serves as a charter boat for eco-tours.

In the video below, you can watch the caulking of a garboard seam with a traditional wooden iron on the Viking King, an 18.75m (61.5’) tugboat built in 1921:

But not all old tools are so cherished. The subject came up again in this issue of PBB, when a designer wrote to us about the sad experience of seeing the drafting tools he once relied on become obsolete. (The letter was in response to “Technology and the Yacht Designer” by Eric Sponberg, published in PBB 165, page 88.)

We can’t change that (nor would we try), but PBB Editor Aaron Porter decided that we can do something. In his editor’s note (PBB 167, page 3), he points out that “the creation of WoodenBoat magazine [our sister publication] in 1974 was to save boat models and building techniques from the dustbin of history.”

His solution: If you’re a professional designer and can’t find a home for your old tools, then send them to us. They can be part of our maritime library at our office in Brooklin, Maine, or donated to historical collections and educational institutions. To learn more, email

I’m reminded of a farm you drive past to reach the offices of Professional BoatBuilder. As stated, the Horsepower Farm operates with draft horses only. No tractors with internal combustion have ever touched the soil. It’s a magnet for young farmers wanting to learn about doing things the traditional way.

And who knows where that trend ends? Those splines, ships curves, and planimeters may someday find a use again—especially given the current artisanal revolution that puts great value on the handcrafting of just about everything. So why not boats? It’s not hard to imagine a similar value being placed on human-powered drawings, and the talented people who make them.


Subscribe to Professional BoatBuilder magazine to read the story mentioned above and access the past year’s issue archive. It’s free for qualifying members of the marine industry.

Article Category: Tools